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Kannur was an important port on the Arabian Sea and carried out trade with Persia and Arabia in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It was also the British military headquarters on Indias west coast up to 1887. In conjunction with her elder sister Tellicherry, it was the third largest city on the western coast of British India in the eighteenth century after Bombay and Karachi.
St. Angelos Fort was built in 1505 by Sir Francisco de Almeida, the first Portuguese Viceroy of India and is situated along the Arabian sea about 3 km from Kannur town. The fort has changed hands several times. In 1663, the Dutch captured it and sold it to the Arakkal royal family. The British conquered it in 1790 and transformed it into one of their major military stations on the Malabar Coast. It is fairly well preserved as a protected monument under the Archaeological Survey of India. A painting of this fort and the fishing ferry behind it is on display at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The body of Kunjali Marakkar was exhibited in the Fort after his assassination.
During British rule in India, Kannur was known by its Anglicised name of Cannanore, which is still in fairly common usage.